In May of this year, I went to Japan for three weeks. I left home alone, my passport mere weeks old, to meet a group of strangers from Australia.
And I never would have had what it took to do it if it wasn’t for my journey through twelve novels.
It began on twitter, and yet so far after and so long before.
Halfway through writing a novel a month for a year, I realized something about me: I didn’t much like myself. In the absence of time to do things like diet and exercise obsessively, no energy for things like social drama or worrying too much about unimportant things, I began to truly see myself.
I wasn’t proud of what I found.
Writing so much stripped me of everything but my own mind, and in that mind I found a swirling monster cloud of old phobias and baggage, self-hate, and the voices of anyone who said anything bad about me ever. And below that cloud, boxes full of things I had forgotten. Old dreams, dusty and still in their boxes, crumpled notes of hope to my future self, collections of unread psychology textbooks, boxes and boxes of broken things I had no intention of fixing, and the half-eaten crust of an eating disorder. All of it to be waded through every time I wanted to get anything done.
Gods, I thought, I can’t live with this crap anymore.
So alongside my journey to finish my novels, to write about the progress being made, I began a long process of becoming a better person – one who didn’t have to fight through the demons and stacks of baggage every time I ventured into my head. I started tackling the boxes, one by one, defeating any demons that tried to interfere.
That, though, is a collection of many other stories.
Along the way, I decided to try and get noticed. I was frightened of being seen, despite my eager online presence, and so I spent hours artistically writing a quote by Neil Gaiman to sent him on twitter.
It was a tiny act of bravery, rewarded by a cascading sea of retweets and replies. One of which turned into a conversation and a tentative twitterverse friendship with an Australian named PinataSenpai.
One night nearly a year ago, I was desperately sad. Things with my dear irowboat were heavy and difficult, and I wrote a small and mopey tweet to that effect. I needed a friend.
And an Australian answered. I joked that I should come to Melbourne and buy him a pint.
He said for me to join him and his wife in Japan the next year instead.
It wasn’t a question, but a direction. I said yes (how could I not!)
I believe that life does these things, gives us gifts in people and places and opportunities and let-downs. But I always find that if I just say yes, just show up, just recognize the opportunities to grow – no matter how frightening they may be – that we are given what we need.
And that, with a year of saving money and anticipation, fear, excitement, and preparations for things I could not prepare for, is how I ended up on a plane to Japan.
What no one but me and a few friends knew – what PinataSenpai couldn’t have known – is that this trip was the final piece I needed to really work on The Novel, my first chosen story of the 13 I wrote in 2012 to ready for publication.
The story is about a woman named Rose, originally from Ireland, and now living in San Diego (the city now recovering from a disaster and invasion of vampires) and running a bar with her Australian friend Iain. They are both stationed by the marines as a black ops unit working to keep vampires out of the main city. Both are immortal, a kind of vampire-like creatures known as Kitsune, without weakness for sun or need for blood, but equally as fast and strong as the vampires they hunt. Rose spent twenty years in the mountains of Japan, the birthplace of vampires, learning from a sect of mountain mystics how to fight and to live as a warrior. She met Iain after fleeing Japan at the beginning of World War Two, and the two have been friends since.
Rose’s life is happy and simple until her ex-lover Shin, one of the oldest and most powerful vampires alive, someone she has not seen in over one hundred years, comes to her bar and asks for her help…
Most of the book, I was well enough prepared for. Mastering Rose’s fiery Irish disposition was as difficult as looking in a mirror, and San Diego is merely a 10 hour drive away should I need. I study martial arts with a group who are more than willing to help me figure all manner of vampire dismemberment with swords and other weapons.
But the tricky bit about basing vampires on Japanese myth instead of the typical Christian myth was my lack of being able to grok what I was talking about. I knew I could fake things – I could read book after book, I could watch all the Anime and Akira Kurosawa I wanted – and almost maybe fool some people. The Australian accent, I thought, was going to be a bugger.
What I really needed, I kept thinking, is a trip to Japan and an Australian to listen to. I didn’t really think I would get either, and not together.
But there you are.
Sometimes, the magic works. You just have to say yes.
And saying yes led me to Japan. To sweet tatami mats and bamboo forests, to futons and late-night sake and train rides (so many train rides), to taking a break from myself and my life and coming back someone new, to peace museums, French breakfast, and karaoke in Hiroshima, rain and a floating shrine that isn’t floating in Miyajima, to wandering ruins on Bunny Island, to green teas and sweet bean soups and shrine upon shrine blurring together like clouds of history. And the people, the beautiful, wonderful people who helped make the world feel so much smaller.
It was more than I can share, more than I ever could imagine.